Meet the young and energetic Captain of the Indian Blind Cricket Team, Manvendra Singh Patwal. His captaincy recently took India to the finals of World Cup Cricket for Blind held in Pakistan. Manvendra started playing cricket while at school. Little did he know the sport he played for fun would one day change the course of his life. Eyeway correspondent, Guneet Sethi talks to Manvendra and finds out more about him and blind cricket in India.
Yes, about a decade ago it was believed that sport is out of reach for the blind. Times have changed and outdoor games have become an integral part of our lives. My hard work, dedication and complete involvement in the game of cricket have brought me to playing at an international level. I started my cricket career at a very initial stage when there were not many facilities available. Today, I feel happy and proud of the fact that in spite of all the difficulties, I have reached the level of representing my country as a captain of the Indian blind cricket world cup team.
How different is Blind Cricket from regular cricket?
There is a lot of difference between our cricket and mainstream cricket. First, blind cricket is based on sound; we use hard plastic balls containing ball rings that make sound when the ball is rolled. Also the bowling style is under arm. Second, there are three categories of players:
Of the 11 players, 4 players are from B1 category which means these players have no vision at all. Then there is the B2 category, comprising of 3 players with 2/60 vision. The remaining 4 players come under B3 category having 6/60 vision. The B1 players are provided with a runner and their runs are doubled. This helps in the equal involvement of all players.
What is your daily practice routine?
Unfortunately, we have no ideal place and time fixed for daily practice. However, we try and get together during weekends and practice. Personally, I exercise regularly to keep fit.
Tell us about your domestic and international cricket experience.
I started playing when I was in school. I played my first ever-national tournament TATA STEAL CHALLENGE CUP 1990, in New Delhi which was the first national cricket tournament for visually challenged people. After that I played almost all tournaments at the domestic level. I am fortunate to have represented my country as a player for the first Blind Cricket world cup in 1998 in Delhi (KANISHKA WORLD CUP FOR THE BLIND).
I again got an opportunity to represent my country as a wicketkeeper-batsman for the second cricket world cup, 2002 in Chennai (PETRO WORLD CUP FOR THE BLIND). It was my pleasure to captain the Indo-Pak ODI series, which was held in Pakistan 2004. Unfortunately we lost that series. The very next year Pakistan visited India and we won the series by 4-0 under my captaincy. In 2006 Punjab cricket association was invited by Pakistan for club cricket and I represented Punjab and won Man of the series for my best performance. Recently we visited Pakistan to play the Third Cricket World Cup, 2006 and we reached the finals.
Talking about your recent tour, what do you think was the reason for not winning the World Cup?
It was an achievement for our team to reach the finals of the world cup for the first time. Though we had a good mix of young and experience players, but our opening slot did not perform as per our expectation in the very important finals. The Pakistan team who won the previous world cup, played well that day, and therefore became the world champions.
Unlike regular cricket, Blind Cricket is almost unheard of. What according to you, should be done to promote it?
That's right. Media coverage for blind cricket is negligible. That's why it is unheard of among the masses. But in my opinion, it's only when the Sports ministry and the BCCI give it the same positive support as regular cricket, will blind cricket reach the masses. There is no denying to the fact, that media coverage plays an important role to make the game popular. However if we look at it positively, despite lack of government and media support, blind cricket has achieved an honorable place by organizing three world cup games in a short span of 16 years.
Which are the Government and Private agencies who support the game?
It is very painful that the support of government & private agencies to this cricket is almost negligible. For blind cricket to progress and grow like any other game, the sports Ministry and the BCCI need to recognize the game. By doing this, I am sure many private companies will come forward and sponsor the game with sufficient funds. This will help us to provide the players with better equipment to practice and will also enable us to organize more tournaments at National and International level.
While pursuing your game, what are the roadblocks you faced?
I have to admit, in spite of being the Captain of the Blind Cricket world cup team, I still face a lot of difficulties to pursue my game. According to Government sports rules, if an employee participates at National and International level he or she gets an increment and promotion by the department. The employee is also eligible for 'on duty' special leave, journey and daily allowances. Despite being a Government employee I am not getting any of these facilities except for a special leave and that too with difficulty. Now that I have a job and get a regular salary, I can afford to play the game but as a student in college I faced a lot of financial problems. I think the cricket board should look into this matter and help solve the problems of the blind cricketers.
Besides cricket, what are your other interests in life?
I am a very fun loving person and have many friends. I enjoy outdoor tours and watching movies. Net surfing is my hobby. I also write poetry sometimes.
Tell us a bit about your family. How supportive were they when you wanted to take up cricket as your career?
I have a small and a very loving family. I am the youngest of the three children. My elder brother and sister are both married, my father has retired from the Forest Department and my mother is a home-maker. I am indeed lucky to have such a supportive family, who always encourage me and feel proud of my success.
What advice do you have for our young and aspiring cricketers who are visually impaired?
Every young and aspiring visually impaired cricketer should stay fit. They should not forget to do their regular physical exercise. Last but not the least, if you want to succeed, remember, there is no short-cut to hard work and sincerity towards the game.
How can we encourage visually impaired people to play cricket?
Today cricket is the most popular game and every one wants to be a part of it, whether he is blind or sighted. There are a few things, which need to be done in order to recognize the young talent and nurture the same. First, when we talk about media coverage for the Blind Cricket, we should also highlight the names of the players, so that the aspiring cricketers get more attracted towards the game. Second, the players participating at National and International level should get monetary benefits. This will help to keep their interest in the game alive. In my opinion, Association for the cricket for the blind in India should prepare guidelines to promote blind cricket at both main stream and blind schools and state level clubs of the entire country. Care should be taken to provide secure jobs for the players who have reached the National or International level.
How can all sports be promoted for the visually impaired at the grass root level?
First of all sports curriculum should be introduced at primary level. We have to create interest among the young and energetic visually challenged children. This can be done by providing them with proper infrastructure and highly skilled physical education teachers.
Like in regular cricket team, do you think an International coach can help the Indian Blind Cricket team?
I don't think we need any international coach to train our players because our present coach is very skilled and committed. What we really need is instead of having a part time coach on voluntary basis, we should hire the coach on regular basis, so that he can devote his full time and energy to improve the skills of the players.